Aging and longevity, a privileged experience.

As we look ahead into our third year at Planet Longevity, there is no doubt that the major themes around aging and longevity will continue to evolve from the ones we looked at in 2015. Topics like Inter-generational Connectivity and Age-Friendly Communities were frequently at the centre of our conversation generated here on our bi-weekly blog.

While we consider all this we should put into perspective the fact that though familiar, heavily discussed social and economic issues related to aging demographics (e.g. health care investments, pension reforms) will be ongoing for many years to come, we need to consider such issues as they unfold, alongside other immediate global realities that are currently adding to our challenges.

For example, right now, as we close out this year, the global refugee migration and resettlement crisis of over a million people is at the highest level it has been in about seventy years. The question is, for parts of the world like Europe, with high youth unemployment and an already high proportion of an elder population; how will this enormous tragedy be acknowledged and managed going forward?

Somehow this question, layered into other conversations on difficult world issues, will no doubt be at play into 2016. As we celebrate and promote an age-friendly society, let us not forget how positive aging and longevity is a privileged experience for those of us more fortunate and able to articulate it – and with systems and policies designed to better achieve it.

Perhaps the disruptive realities of millions of people on the other side of the world, are often perceived as being at a comfortable screen-distance away. But these events are not that distant, and neither will the next speed-driven twenty years be, as the world population experiences demographic shifts which may not turn out to be exactly as we project or envision.

It is with this in mind that we still need to encourage more innovations responsive to the changing dynamics of communities, inclusive of the needs of all ages and diverse cultural backgrounds. I have a strange suspicion that the outlooks we take in the future, on adapting for an aging society, will require even more of a demand for a global perspective. Is that perchance why we call this group – Planet Longevity?

With a sense of good will and purpose … and a serious amount of good fortune, as Theodore Roszak once said, “longevity will outlast the Boomers.”

Best wishes for the New Year – 2016!


Mark Venning

Redirection: New Later Life Career Research Project Launched!

Planet Longevity is pleased to share in our congratulations to one of our contributors on this thought leadership panel. Suzanne Cook has now launched a new research project funded by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC). Titled the Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development Project, this one-year project will, among other things, make recommendations to assist professionals who deliver career services to older adults in their later life career development.

Suzanne Cook is a social gerontologist and an adjunct professor at York University in the Department of Sociology and in the YU Centre for Aging Research and Education (YU-CARE). She has a shared interest in this subject area with many of us who have been working directly in the field of career development and seen first-hand, how this theme of later life careers has become more prominent over the last decade or so.

Career professionals work in different venues such as college, university and community based career centres, to private sector career & talent management firms and individual coaching practices with private clients. One struggle for professionals, who work with clients in their later life stages, is to find the right way to position relevant language around later life careers in a world where a term like “older workers” still tends to feed a stigma from an old narrative.

Attitudes to work, retirement, aging and longevity are not always consistent for everybody. Depending on how and where a career professional finds a client in their work-life journey, they have to take into account the client’s personal situation, their unique needs and desires and their current take on their potential. It may become a question of how creatively and progressively the professional helps them by moving away from outmoded frames of reference.

The margins have shifted in terms of how long and in what way people will choose to work in the future – and it is after all a personal decision. I support the view that there is no crisp end to work at any stage of later life, and this also depends, now and in the future, on how we choose to describe what work, a workplace and a workforce is. For many this time now is about paving the way for an extended lifetime beyond traditional expectations of a retirement.

“Redirection” is Suzanne’s operative word in her endeavour to help shift the mind-set of those in later life career, as well as those who are in a professional position to help them better articulate their options. There is both a creative and pragmatic side to career conversations, a push, pull and probe approach. One of the more pragmatic questions in this new frame of reference thus becomes “how are you going to finance your longevity?” Now there is a stretch of thinking.

As Suzanne Cook continues her work over the next year with CERIC, Planet Longevity will provide any timely project updates and at the same time help facilitate her in the dissemination of the project’s activities and findings.
Mark Venning

Why not celebrate a “Seniors’ Summer”?

June 2015 is the 31st annual Seniors’ Month in Ontario with the theme Vibrant Seniors, Vibrant Communities. A large part of what makes a vibrant community is the inter-generational aspect.

Planet Longevity submits our theme “Inter-generational Opportunities: Things that Bond Us”, by way of proposing to Seniors’ organizations, that they develop more outward messaging to attract younger generations to join a conversation on issues of mutual concern. So with our view to help celebrate in a broader way – why not make it Seniors’ Summer?

Issues such as affordable living, accessible community design and social inclusion are of common concern to people regardless of age and stage of life. Conversations need to be framed as such, to positively create an inter-generational narrative in an age where wider economic disparities layer in as one of the multiple concerns of an aging population.

Canada was a major contributor to the World Health Organization (WHO) Age-friendly Cities Guide published in 2007. In 2013, the Ontario government published its own Age-friendly Community Guide. Two of the key elements in the WHO guide are social participation & respect and social inclusion. Within these two elements, lie the benefits of having better inter-generational connections and these are integral to the success of age-friendly communities.

To a large extent, Seniors bring insights from varied careers and have lived through several economic cycles over many decades, and together with those not so senior they are making their way into the same challenging future. Let’s find ways to take advantage of inter-generational connections to help build and strengthen our communities.

Summer is also the perfect time where all generations have more time to be together and, in a less pressured way, can open conversations about practical topics that are often sensitive to family dynamics, such as powers of attorney, care directives, wills and estate planning.

Finally, in reference to the fun side of summer, the season every one of any age looks forward to in Ontario; this Seniors’ Summer is an opportunity to encourage more inter-generational participation in one of the eight WHO age-friendly aspects – promoting neighbourhood projects to build and beautify outdoor spaces. Happy Seniors’ Summer!


The Planet Longevity Team

A Holistic Approach to Healthy Aging.

With spring finally here, what a great time to announce that I was the first guest on the new weekly show called Why Our Seniors Matter launched May 4th, 2015 on ListenUp Talk Radio where my interview focused on a holistic approach to healthy aging. While this show will cover a range of topics of broad interest in the daily lives of seniors, it seems perfectly fitting to open with this holistic view.

Over the next thirteen weeks, the Why Our Seniors Matter show will feature many practical matters from finance to fitness, but they all tie in to one or more of the eight aspects of the holistic healthy aging – social, cognitive, physical, psychological, spiritual, purposeful work, financial and environmental.

In my progress, through my work as a gerontologist and educator, my focus has been on supporting a new vison of aging – healthy aging that is not only out of concern for the old but also for their families which makes all this truly an “inter-generational” new vision.

As I mentioned in the Talk Radio interview, there are gaps in how we provide information on aging matters directly to seniors in the community, and there will be a growing demand on family members of all ages to become an integral part of that information food chain as the aging demographic curve rises over the next two decades.

Furthermore, we require new ways of providing information and resources to those who need it. Communities and municipalities as well as businesses serving seniors can do a lot to shape the way information about seniors’ services and resources is presented. Lack of awareness is one issue but equally important is timely information provision.

Many older adults have complex needs and the best way to meet them is to enhance information, including knowledge of resources and tools. Better information provision is a key way to build an age-friendly society.

Coming up in June is Seniors’ Month in Ontario. Listening in to the Why Our Seniors Matter radio show is timely and as it happens all this coincides with our Planet Longevity theme of inter-generational connections as part of what makes a healthier age friendly community; all viewed in that holistic approach.
Suzanne Cook

Planet Longevity: Celebrating 1st Anniversary!

Actually in a way, it was in September 2012 that the eight of us came together to form what became Planet Longevity and our web site went up with our first bi-weekly blog post Feb.2 2014. Heading into our second year, as a thought leadership panel, we will focus on specific aspects under the theme:

“Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.”

As an example of one of these aspects, our Planet Longevity panelist Suzanne Cook teaches a Sociology of Aging course developed at York University, where Inter-generational Learning is experienced; eight older adults joining students in their 20’s, which is an innovative method of linking these generations. Suzanne also presented on this topic at the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference in October last year.

So much more underscores this theme of “age friendly” when it comes to things like designing community neighbourhoods, understanding the shared investment in the delivery of appropriate home/health care and not to forget, how financial literacy crosses the life course – not just retirement nest egg planning.

In addition, we will continue to track Canadian and international initiatives to share perspectives on how various parts of the world are forward thinking on aging issues. It’s a global demographic shift of considerable measure in some regions more than others, and the way each community positively reshapes the longevity narrative for future generations will perhaps be judged useful only if influenced by a more inter-generational conversation.

Thanks to Suzanne Cook, Mary Ellen Tomlinson, Sandra Downey, Lorraine Clemes, Marie Howes, Jill Jukes and Gerald Bramm for contributing to the ongoing idea generation, research, marketing and blogging for the group. Happy Anniversary to us!


Mark Venning

Global Scenarios for an Era of Longevity

“How we live in an era of longevity – the miracle bequeathed to us from 20th century advances… paradoxically creates several challenges…” Dr. Michael Hodin, Executive Director, Global Coalition on Aging

In about three short weeks (Feb.9, 2015) in London at Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs will host an event titled “Ageing & Health: Policy & Health in an Era of Longevity”. The speakers are from an A-list of international experts in the subject area of Global Aging & Longevity. Dr. Michael Hodin is the Chair of the opening session on Adjusting to Population Aging. His observations and insights are always well balanced and engaging.

One of the other excellent speakers I have heard speak here in Canada at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research is Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Co-President of the International Longevity Centre. He is leading the session focused on Health Priorities for Aging Populations. A Canadian-based speaker on the Chatham House program is Jane Barratt, Secretary General of the International Federation on Ageing. She is also a Board Member of Toronto’s Baycrest Centre.

While all these conversations on aging and health generate discussion at a higher level with global thought leaders in the front row at Chatham House, the next important level to reach with this conversation may be more of a walk down the steps, to the street level – the park bench, the coffee shop.

Every-day people are experiencing the “miracles and the challenges” of this era of longevity and they are talking; and even if it is pure individual storytelling, listening as I do to the “on the street story”, the gathering volume of evidence suggests that people are looking for new realistic options; not just re-tinkered public policies based on an older-framed narrative.

As we look at the obvious needs that are projected in our 21st century global scenarios (whether that’s 2020 or 2040), what the individual needs help with right now is how they can better understand their immediate aging & health circumstance, in a non-complex way within the context of that bigger picture. Consequently, if you are a business, a government or an NGO, you should engage the aging and health conversation with every-day people from a position not of fear of financial burden but cross-generational social investment.

And one thing not to forget, is that this macro trend of aging & longevity exists alongside several major global scenarios that dominate headlines, and somehow they are all interconnected economically, politically and socially.
Mark Venning

Landscapes of Aging, 2014

Niagara Falls. What a perfect location as a symbol of longevity in the beautiful landscape of the Niagara region. From Oct.16-18, 2014 the Canadian Association of Gerontology (CAG) holds its 43rd annual conference – Landscapes of Aging – Critical Issues, Emerging Possibilities.

Suzanne Cook, (apart from being a scout for Planet Longevity), will be a presenter at the conference on the Saturday morning, chairing the session under the banner “Intergenerational Learning within Formal Educational Programs”. Suzanne’s specific piece will focus on the work she has been doing at York University in a one-year course – Sociology of Aging. More from Suzanne on this in our next Planet Longevity blog post.

Take a scan through the CAG conference program and you will be amazed if not overwhelmed by the wide range of niche topics related to aging issues. There is no room to say that you aren’t spoiled for choice; and you don’t have to be a gerontology professional or academic to understand that each of the aspects covered has a real connection to what everyday people are experiencing.

Setting aside keynote speakers, the granular details of the “critical Issues & emerging possibilities” are parcelled out in thematic doses over three days, too many to mention here. Sample of a few that popped out at me:

  • Person centered home care
  • Challenges in long term care
  • Experiences of caregivers
  • Aging and social exclusion
  • Rural aging
  • Changing the culture of dementia care
  • Aging and technology

Gerontology as a field of knowledge and professional practice encompasses so much as any Google search will reveal, a “multidisciplinary” field as the CAG describes itself. Considering the direction society is taking in terms of aging demography, it serves all of us to be well informed about the challenges and possibilities.

So much news on the social aspects of aging is headlined in caution and worry words like risk and cost or being under capacity to serve the old. Easy as it is to define the critical issues, the more enlightening outcome from this conference will hopefully be about what the world of gerontology is doing with the emerging possibilities.

Mark Venning

Celebrating Maggie Kuhn

August 3rd was Maggie Kuhn’s birthday. This year we celebrate 109 years since her birth, and it is important to recognize this forward thinking American social activist for her work in the field of aging. Maggie is a champion of aging and the later years. In August 1970, she founded Gray Panthers.

“Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Her work is notable not only because she was ahead of her time. She also broke stereotypes and at age 65, she embarked on the most important work of her life. In fact, rather than accept her employer and society pushing her into a quiet retirement, she chose to take action and work for the rights of older people.

After being forced into retirement from the Presbyterian Church, Maggie, along with her friends in similar circumstances, organized and founded the group that became the Gray Panthers. The organization focused on the issues of older people including pensions and pension rights, health care and age discrimination. Gray Panthers also addressed the larger social issues of the time such as the Vietnam War.

By the year 2020, the year of perfect vision, the old will outnumber the young.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Maggie was a charismatic and energetic leader. She advocated for older adults to have a voice and a position at the table for programs, practice and social policy and encouraged older adults to stay involved and take action on social issues. In doing so, she started a cultural revolution.

Maggie also believed in the power of intergenerational connection. One of her mantras was ‘Young and old together’. Under her guidance, Gray Panthers came to represent the possibility and power of later life. She herself demonstrated how older adults can be active in the world working for social issues that are important to them.

“There must be a goal at every stage of life! There must be a goal!” ~Maggie Kuhn

Until death at age 89, Maggie continued her work as an activist and advocate. She redefined aging and she is a role model to us all – women and men, young and old alike.


Suzanne Cook

Business Think Points: The Upside of Aging

If you are a new student to the subject of aging or longevity, trying to gain an appreciation of the “dawn of the multi-faceted world of extended lifetimes”, and how the world is changing, then the new compendium – The Upside of Aging by Paul H. Irving, President of the Milken Institute is a great starting point.


One of those books in the category of “pick up, put down” any time, Upside of Aging is sixteen separate articles or essays written by some of the top (mostly American) thought leaders in this subject area. For someone like me who has researched and built an extensive library on global aging and longevity issues this collection, though not big news, is a widely scoped quick reference.

Everything covered here is useful to provoke conversation more widely in your social or business circles, timely and comprehensive on topics included in the subtitle – health, work, innovation, policy and purpose. That’s what we need, enlightened provocation of ideas on these think points. Earlier I used the word dawn because for many people, they are just catching up to all this. Plus – the macro effects of the global demographic shift have not yet hit full stride.

As a business, community leader or politician you may be currently dealing with other pressing matters in the economy; so finding relevance or “upside” in any of these topics, near term or long term, may at first seem like a disconnect to an immediate bottom line outcome. So I suggest for you, start with Chapter 4 – Disruptive Demography: the New Business of Old Age by Joseph F. Coughlin. Check out his blog on MIT Age Lab.

Business in the fast lane already too much for you? Then the next best thing you could do is to read Chapter 6 – The New Global Economy, through an Aging Lens by Michael. W. Hodin; Executive Director of the Global Coalition on Aging.

One upside insight from reading any part of this collection is that how we view progress or prosperity will need to change based on how we reset the vocabulary of longevity.

Mark Venning


The Third Rail: More Pension Dialogue

Examining our current construct around pensions is not unique to Canada. However recent federal and provincial conversations have heated up the debate about pension reform in this country and will likely become one of the top issues in elections upcoming in the next year or two.

In the Planet Longevity Blog Pension Tension (Feb.16),  Marie Howes offered her commentary and Book Review of The Third Rail by Jim Leech and Jacquie McNish (2013). How timely this is now we’re in the lead up to income tax season; and next to the Winter Olympics, everywhere we’ve turned in the last few weeks the advertising for financial planning products with the push for retirement savings contributions and debt management services has filled up media space.

The Third Rail is a must read for all Canadians. To stimulate your thinking on the subject of pensions and perhaps contribute to the dialogue read these links.

Mark Venning